The bahn-storming BMW X5M returns for another stab at the super-est SUV title, bringing boosts in power, efficiency and features, for a faster yet more frugal proposition. But cheap it’s not.
WHAT IS IT
The BMW X5M is the flagship performance version of an already driver-orientated sports SUV, centred on a highly modified twin-turbo V8 drivetrain, as well as the usual suspension, brakes and interior upgrades associated with the M Performance sub-brand. Loud and aggressive, this is not for wallflowers.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
The new-generation X5M has more power, more pace and extra gear over its predecessor. In isolation, the $185,900 that BMW is charging for its hottest X5 might seem extortionate for many, but in context of the new X5 M’s 4.2s 0-100km/h performance, it stands as something of a bargain, since Porsche Cayenne buyers must fork out another $100K for a Stuttgart SUV that beats the Bolshie Bavarian.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
An extraordinary engineering effort, the X5 M manages to offer stronger performance than before (like it was needed!), while introducing improved efficiency and value to the equation. That’s a win in our books, especially when no equivalent style vehicle can match the Munich super SUV’s stonking acceleration for the money. Silly auto lever and jittery 21-inch wheel ride aside, you have to admire this BMW’s focus.
PLUS: Strident performance, handling, comfort, practicality, attitude, value
MINUS: Clunky lever, thirst, turning circle, ride
THE WHEELS REVIEW
CALLING IT an M X5 just wouldn’t do. Even if the iconic Mazda roadster never existed, it is clear that the BMW SUV flagship is an (albeit blisteringly fast) SUV first and an M car second.
As with all of the new model F15 X5s, the M range-topper is essentially a rebodied version of what went before, though this time the latter gains its own model code: F85. Is there enough change to justify such a statement?
The X5M’s body is not bespoke. It gets headlights from its 2015 BMW X6 sibling, kidney grilles with M-signature double bars, and redesigned bumpers brandishing 50 percent bigger air intakes butches up an already blunt nose. Side-on, the gills adopt chrome, alien-like twin-stalk mirrors mount the doors, and unique 21-inch alloys (on non-runflat rubber) result in a 10mm ride-height drop; finally, out back, the reprofiled bumper’s body-coloured diffuser houses four exhaust pipes.
Building on the X5’s usual space, comfortable, practicality and functionality, the M version gains M-specific seats, steering wheel with paddle-shifters, gear selector and “exclusive” trim finishes – some of dubious taste.
There’s certainly a taste for firepower aplenty, courtesy of a 423kW/750Nm 4.4-litre direct-injection V8, employing two twin-scroll turbos and cross-bank exhaust manifolds to edge power and torque outputs upwards to the tune of four and 10 percent respectively. Conversely, efficiency enhancements like regenerative braking and stop/start tech see fuel consumption drop by 21 percent.
A switch from a six-speed to an eight-speed ZF auto also helps. It’s been reengineered to mimic the characteristics of a dual-clutch gearbox, so while the torque converter stays, low-speed ‘creep’ is gone, cog changes are quick and a new launch control system cuts the 0-100km/h dash to 4.2 seconds – just 0.1s shy of the $100K-more Porsche Cayenne Turbo S.
Even in its most docile Comfort mode, the X5M is a staggering performer, gaining ferocious momentum while maintaining a state of composed grace – on smooth and straight roads at least. The BMW’s biggest strength is its ability to waft along on its own terms, unfazed by inclines, weather or slower moving vehicles. Acceleration is always colossal.
However, while no other 2.3-tonne SUV might be as agile, the Bavarian blunderbuss lacks the laser-guided tactility of other M cars. The X5M’s standard adjustable air suspension with its changeable dampers, variable-ratio steering, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system (set at a 60/40 rear-drive bias), and astonishing braking capabilities collectively make the driving decisions for you. So while the helm is beautifully measured, the handling reactive and controlled and the roadholding reassuringly tenacious, the net effect is like driving on auto pilot, with precious little real feel or involvement.
For variety, choosing one of many changeable steering, transmission or suspension permutations adds a dramatic edge and/or urgency, accompanied by a thunderous exhaust soundtrack. But the resulting constant pitching, exacerbated by the inevitable body movement (despite the Dynamic Drive roll stabilisers) and deteriorating ride comfort over anything other than velvety smooth surfaces, might dissuade excursions into Sport or Sport+. Dial M for motion sickness anyone?
More palatable is the $185,900 X5M’s relative value. For $2K extra, there’s $15K more kit, including bigger wheels, leather-lined dash, driving/parking assist tech like lane-change alert, Harmon Kardon audio and ConnectedDrive services. Navigation, head-up display, adaptive LED headlights with auto high beam, sunroof, surround-view camera, DAB+ radio/TV tuner and electric tailgate are also included. No autonomous emergency braking is disappointing, though.
Two days of ripping along stunning Tasmanian roads reveal the X5 M’s cracking speed, handling and roadholding, but also highlight issues of thirst, ride, clunky gear lever and driving detachment. The M bits are added-on rather than engineered-in. Stonking as it is, this BMW could never be badged 'MX5'.
Model: BMW X5M
Engine: 4395cc V8, dohc, 32v twin-turbo
Max power: 423kW @ 6000-6500rpm
Max torque: 750Nm @ 2200-5000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed auto
Fuel economy: 11.1L/100km
On sale: Now